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On Thursday, President Donald Trump was asked about a false report that California Sen. Kamala Harris might not be eligible to be vice president.

Rather than dismiss them out of hand, he said this:

“I heard it today that she doesn’t meet the requirements, and by the way the lawyer who wrote the piece is highly qualified, very talented. I assumed the Democrats would’ve checked that out before she gets chosen for vice president.”

Shame on Trump. But anyone who acts surprised that the President was willing to push a lie about his political opponents into the public space has been residing on another planet over the last four-plus years. This is who Trump is and what he does. Birtherism is, literally, how he got his start in politics.

The real story at this point, then, is not necessarily Trump’s willingness to engage in baseless speculation about an untrue storyline. The real story is the silence that has — and will continue — to greet Trump’s ridiculous remark from the Republican establishment and its elected leaders.

Because it’s that silence, and the tacit acceptance that “Trump is Trump,” that will define the GOP long after Trump leaves office — whether involuntarily in 2021 or four years later. The willingness to simply swallow known falsehoods or dismiss them with a “I didn’t see the President’s remarks” or “I’m sorry, I have to get to a meeting” is what will, ultimately, do the lasting damage for a Republicans.

The breaking of principles — like, you know, truth — is how party and movements die, or at least badly injure themselves. If a political party abandons what it believes in order to follow a single person who openly mocks what the party once stood for, then what is holding the party together? It’s a cult of personality, not a gathering of like-minded people all working toward a common set of goals.

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